X is for… some of the things I have eXcised from my life 

I have a lot of Exes. Not ex-partners so much, more ex activities. I often joke http I have no more vices other than buying nice things for myself and some people might think I am a property-owning professional employee who has never had a day’s worries… This is definitely not the case.

I have spent over ten years of my life in institutions. (‘Ooh’, I hear metaphorical readers say. ‘Which ones??’ Well about equal amounts of prison, mental health residential services and psychiatric wards with a smattering of homelessness and crisis housing thrown in and several years in public housing. The current incarnation of Yennski is a relatively new thing and in order to become that version of me I hav needed to ‘eX’ quite a lot of things from my life.

I had addiction problems for many years. I have a major issue with cannabis abuse for many years. People might think cannabis is more of a harmless drug but for me out brought on my first episode of psychosis and my understanding is that the reason I have schizophrenia now, almost thirty years after that first episode, is almost certainly heavy cannabis use. When people say it is a harmless drug I will remind them that if you are prone to psychosis it is not a mild or harmless drug at all. The problem with addiction is that you can’t just wake up one day and decide not to be addicted. For me it was around ten years of battling my addiction before I got clean and for others it take even longer. I simply couldn’t see my drug use as being a problem even though it clearly was damaging my life. I got there eventually but it was a hard road.

Another thing I have ‘eXed’ is criminal activity. I spent over three years in jail in the late 1990s and about five identifying as a criminal. It was awful and related to masking and being in denial about my autism. I got into that lifestyle through a partner who was very dangerous but I didn’t realise this. I spent six months in prison s a result of this man and after that became traumatised and institutionalised. 

Being a criminal fulfilled some needs for me, mostly company and boundaries. I was prone to loneliness and isolation so if all I needed to do was break the law and go to court I would get several months of round the clock company! I also became terrified of life in the ‘real’ world. It was too big and scary. I am not proud of the things I did the but I recognise why I did them. Excising myself from the criminal lifestyle was at once easy and incredibly difficult. In practical terms it was easy: I threw out my address book as everyone in there was a drug addict and/or a criminal. I stopped seeing any of the people I had known in the preceding few years and I changed my behaviour. I was also supported by a mental health residential service. The hard bit was letting go of my entire world. -all my friends and people I knew and the containment of living behind prison walls. The best part of this – and the catalyst for me changing –  was my parents who always stood by me. I remember them going overseas shortly after I was released and coming back with loads of thoughtful gifts for me. It was just lovely.

So excising things from my life has ben liberating if challenging. I think for autistic folks making major life changes is particularly hard but in my case at least, very much worth it.

And Sunday 5 February will mark exactly 23 years of me not being a prisoner. I am celebrating by having lunch with some of my close friends – none of whom are remotely criminal!! Seems fitting to me.  

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